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Palace intrigue

A family in revolt at Yelm’s Triad Theater

From left: Dawn Wadsworth as Queen Eleanor, Dave Champagne as King Henry II, Daniel Wyman as Geoffrey, and Victoria Ashley as Alais. Photo courtesy Standing Room Only

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The Lion in Winter by James Goldman is a riveting comic drama about King Henry II; his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine; his young ward, Alais (sometimes spelled Alys and sometimes Alice); and his three surviving sons: Richard, Geoffrey and John (the eldest, Young Henry, was killed when he and his brothers revolted against their father the king), and King Phillip of France. It is now being performed by Standing Room Only at Yelm's Triad Theater.

The historical facts are confusing and colored with speculation and rumor. Eleanor, whom Henry II married when he was 18, was one of the most powerful women in Europe. She had previously been married to Louis VII of France and was later imprisoned for 10 years by Henry who then controlled all of England and half of France.

Alias was 8 years old when first sent to Henry, who signed a contract of marriage between her and his son Richard, later to be called the Lionheart. Both Henry and Eleanor were reputed to have had many affairs. She was even reputed to have had an affair with Henry's father.

In the play, Alais (Victoria Ashley) and Henry (Dave Champagne) are lovers, which Eleanor (Dawn Wadsworth) knows. She thinks of Alais as both a rival and a daughter. To further complicate the plot, Alais is promised with a dowry to marry Richard (Jesse Geray), who is accused of having had a homosexual affair with King Phillip of France (Will Champagne), and all three sons are fighting over who is to be the next King of England. These juicy and complicated palace intrigues and family feuds are brought to light during a weekend in the palace at Christmas when Henry lets Eleanor come home for a holiday visit.

The plot is complicated but clear. The acting by the principles: Ashley, Dave Champagne and Wadsworth, is outstanding. Champagne plays King Henry as sly, devious and volatile; Wadsworth is imperial in demeanor as the powerful Eleanor; and as Alais, Ashley comes across as, at first, innocent and loving but eventually strong and clever enough to hold her own with the back-stabbing royal family. It is a joy to watch these three at work.

Actors portraying the three sons and King Phillip are not as compelling. All four seemed stiff and uncomfortable in their roles at first but become much stronger in the second act.

The most entertaining scene in the play is the first scene of the second act in which Henry and Eleanor have the stage alone and engage in a convoluted battle of wit, and creative invective. This entire scene is an acting and writing tour de force. It's like George and Martha from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf transported back to the 12th century. It's a scene that could stand alone as a one-act. And it is a warm-up to the bombast to follow when wife and sons plot to murder the king.

The massive set is one of the play's biggest assets and biggest burdens. It consists of various rooms in the castle with heavy stone walls and marvelous props, ornately carved furniture, lamps, swords, carpets and massive wine bottles -- a much larger and more impressive set than is usually seen in small community theaters. The downside to that is that set changes are long, cumbersome and distracting.

The play runs approximately two-and-a-half hours including intermission.

THE LION IN WINTER, 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 3 p.m., Sunday, through March 30, $20, $17 military and seniors, $10 students, Triad Theater, 102 E. Yelm Ave., Yelm, 360.458.3140,

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